A Book After My Own Ancestors….

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the premise on which it was written. The author admits it was written and based on a family member that disappeared. She took bits and pieces of the story she knew and mixed them with factual historical details to create a moving, heartbreaking story.  This is something I have personally always wanted to do. In the early 1930’s, my great grandmother, Opal Raider Fulks walked out of her home and never came back. She left behind my very young grandmother, her husband, and her two other daughters.  We have very, very little information as to where or why she disappeared.  In many of my dreams, especially lately, I see her…in fact I AM her…and wonder if the scenes I dream actually occurred. I have considered writing a novel based on what we know and what I’ve seen in my dreams. When I saw the description of The Buried Book, I knew I had to read it. In fact, I reached out to the author on Goodreads, and she was kind enough to answer my question.

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The novel takes place in rural Michigan and begins with a young boy being left by his mother. She takes him to his aunt and uncle’s farm and disappears for a few years. The remainder of the story is of Jasper, the young boy, attempting to find where she went, and if she is even alive. While his father makes the occasional appearance, it only adds to the heartbreak and abject sadness of the entire situation. The only reason I wasn’t awestruck by this novel was that there were parts that were a bit fantastic. A tornado, a sprint alone through Detroit, a lone bus ride, a house fire and a barn fire….at every turn there was something dramatic happening to Jasper, and these made it seem just a little too unbelievable. Otherwise, you could read this book and believe this was a true history of D.M. Pulley’s ancestors.

The novel covers topics of poverty, poor working conditions, misogyny, rape and sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, prostitution, murder, farm life and the mistreatment of Native Americans. Without being overly descriptive about these subjects, the author has created a fairly believable tale of what may have happened to her family member, and how the events of her teenage years affected family members for decades afterwards.

Thank you NetGalley, and always, Lake Union, for providing this novel in exchange for my review. Keep up the fantastic prints.

The H.G. Wells Prophecy

I’m not a fan of H.G. Wells, mostly because his stuff scares the crap out of me. War of the Worlds is a movie I can’t NOT watch, but gives me nightmares every time I watch it. I dare not read it.

So I thought I’d try this one- seemed a little tamer.
Still terrifying.

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He travels to the year 802701 and meets some beautiful waif-like creatures called Eloi who seem fairly blissfully unaware of most dangers. Their days are spent mostly in repose. One, Weena, nearly drowns and the time traveler is the only one who rushes to save her. So begins a platonic, non-romantic relationship. In arriving in this year, his time machine is lost, so he must find it to get home. In doing so, he comes upon the Morlocks, whom are quite the opposite of the Eloi. The Time Traveler is his retelling of this trip to his friends and colleagues, most are are disbelieving in his tale.

Knowing that this book was written by Wells in 1895 just blows my mind. He touches on topics of class, race, global warming, and environmentalism- in a time when these topics didn’t exist or were taboo or ignored. Quite prophetic. Here are a few examples:

“There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change.”

“He, I know- for the question had been discussed among us long before the Time Machine was made- thought but cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind, and aw in the growing pile of civilization only a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its makers in the end.”

PS, for some context, this review is being written the day before Election Day, 2016- Trump vs. Clinton.

Not Your Typical Atwood

How excited was I to received this Advanced Reader’s Copy from Bookstr?!

Margaret Atwood is up there with Joyce Carol Oates as one of my favorite writers of all times. It really just fluctuates between whomever I’ve read most recently, though I do have to say, Ms. Atwood’s stories tend to stick in my head much longer than JCO’s do.

That being said, this is a bit of a departure from her most recent books. Most know Atwood as a writer of dystopic novels, though that wasn’t always the case. This is definitely NOT a dystopic novel, as it is part of Crown Publishing’s Hogarth Shakespeare project. Hag-Seed is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, another one of his plays I had zero familiarity with prior to this novel.

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First, let me say, that the feel of this book in my hands is splendid. For a paperback of under 300 pages, it feels hefty- due mostly to the thickness of the paper it is published on. I absolutely love this- when I’m reading it, there is no denying it is THERE, in my hot little hands.

Now, I typically read Atwood’s novels quickly- in a matter of days- but this one took a few weeks. Mostly because I felt lost most of the time. Perhaps it is because of my unfamiliarity with The Tempest, but once the play was being performed at the prison, I couldn’t follow what was happening very well. I tried to read this novel as just that, a story, regardless of the fact it was a modern spin on an old tale, and I just wasn’t getting it. There were definite moments where the book held me- in the beginning when Felix is cast out of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival, when he is meeting with Estelle, his contact at the prison, and any time Anne-Marie had a presence. But the purpose of putting on The Tempest as a cover for his revenge just didn’t add up to me, as it seemed too far fetched and disjointed. And then, just like that, the whole purpose of this novel, the revenge, was over and never really mentioned again.

The other thing that I didn’t quite get was his relationship with his daughter Miranda. Sure, he had named her after the character in The Tempest, but when he kept seeing her, despite her death years earlier, and was having conversations with her, I questioned how that helped in the story. Because he is clearly delusional? So delusional as to see and talk to his dead daughter? And to be so delusional as to create this revenge play in a prison? Perhaps.

As a stand alone novel, it was a solid meh. I suppose if you were a big fan of The Tempest, this would make more since and be sensational. Luckily Atwood provided a five page synopsis of the original play at the end, which helped some. I also suppose you could call this story quite meta, as it is the retelling of The Tempest, where the main character is living his own Tempest while producing The Tempest in prison. Yes. Clever and meta, it is.

Of the Hogarth Shakespeare’s books, this is the third I’ve read after Vinegar Girl and The Gap of Time. So far, The Gap of Time has been my favorite, but I can’t wait to check out more of them as they are released.

Behold This Beautiful Book

For a brand new author, this is a beautiful story. I loved how Mbue used her own Cameroonian roots to develop the main characters in this novel.
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It is the story of Jende and Neni, immigrants from Cameroon, coming to America for their own American dream. Jende comes to the US a few years before sending for Neni and his son. Neni falls in love with NYC, the flashing lights, ethnic people and access to everything. She jumps right into college to become a pharmacist. Meanwhile, Jende gets a great job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a big-wig at Lehman Brothers. 2007/2008 happen, and we all know what happens to Lehman Brothers. The fall out of the financial collapse is the background of this story.

We also get to know Clark’s wife and 2 sons. The collapse of Lehman Brothers exposes cracks in both the Edwards’ relationship, as well as Jende and Neni’s. Navigating the US as immigrants in a country that is fighting to stay financially afloat is extremely difficult, and Mbue documents this beautifully.

It is the differences in marriages from one country and culture to another. It is the determination of men and in how they recover from ruin. It is the determination of wives and how they fight to keep what they believe is theirs. It is the difference in humans; how some believe they are handed a lot in life while others scramble to pave their own way.

A beautiful, exquisite story from beginning to end.

Joyce Carol Oates Lite

This is Joyce Carol Oates as her lightest…Lauren Kelly is just one of her pseudonyms that she wrote under for a brief spell. For those that find JCO difficult to read, this is a lot easier…less stream of consciousness, more precise story telling.
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However, keeping with her typical dark style, the The Blood Mask itself is very JCO. Diabolical, a little confusing and twisty, slightly morbid, though not overtly grotesque. It is the story of Annabelle (who becomes Marta), a teenager sent to live with her rich, art-influenced (influencing) aunt after her parents become incapable of caring for her. What first seems like a dream come true (moving from a broken home to a mansion) quickly becomes a nightmare of manipulation, unrequited love and a struggle to prove loyalty.

A pretty quick read, yet not amazingly profound in any way. Great for those who’d like to dabble in a little JCO to peak behind those dark brocade curtains of her mind.

The Underground Railroad

I thoroughly enjoyed this book!
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It is the story of Cora, a pre-Civil War era slave who was abandoned by her mother as a child. She lives and grows up on the plantation where she was born, but having no mother, is considered an outcast and is made to live in the undesirable part of the slave quarters. While she mostly keeps to herself, she will defend her small plot of land or the slave children, sometimes to the tune of her own punishment. When a fellow slave asks her to join him on his escape, she agrees with only a few days hesitation. This is where the book takes off.

This story is a heart pounding and heart wrenching chase throughout. Colson’s literal depiction of the Underground Railroad as a physical underground railroad is just enough of a twist to keep this from being a run of the mill slave escape story. This is exactly how many of us envisioned the Underground Railroad as children, when we first learned of it…and this is what Colson’s imagination ran with. Unfortunately there are many who have read this book that find this twist to be too apocryphal given what really happened, and feel this is misleading and confusing to some readers. (I’m assuming they are side-eyeing ‘the children’, for whom we don’t give enough credit.) To those readers who feel this way, shame on you for forgetting the very simple difference between fiction and non-fiction.

Cora finds herself amazed at the work that was put in to something so large yet invisible…by slaves just like her- an entire network of underground tunnels and rails. She also learns that while things were bad and quickly getting worse at the plantation, that things on the outside are sometimes worse…even for those who are not slaves.

Will Cora find safety in the North? Will she find the mother that abandoned her? Will she forgive her for abandoning her as a child? Will the slave catchers find her and send her home for certain death? This is the thrill of The Underground Railroad.

A Beautiful Tragedy

…and isn’t that what Shakespeare was great at? Writing beautiful tragedies?
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The Gap of Time is one of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project books. It is a retelling of The Winter’s Tale– a Shakespeare I have not yet read. Luckily a synopsis is included in the beginning of the book, which is helpful. This is also my first Jeanette Winterson, who herself, makes an appearance in this novel.
In this version, Leo and Xeno are boyhood friends whose lives continue to mix into adulthood. Relationships are made, created and destroyed. Jealousy and controlling behaviors rule. Children are born and lost- or are they?
While this version is meant for the modern era, it still feels timeless. The overtone of the book is sadness- you are sad for the characters- even the ones whose actions don’t deserve sympathy. There are tidbits, hints and nuggets of other Shakespeare’s works in here (Perdita calls herself Miranda, fittingly, at one point) and these are fun to spot.

This is adults behaving badly and how that impacts the lives of their children. It is how the loss of a child can ruin the lives of everyone around her. About how jealousy can explode so far out of it’s container that the shrapnel goes way beyond the immediate parties entwined in it. This was a very quick read.

The character names in the book are versions of the names from the play, which is also fun- the current versions are just that- more modern versions of these names. In the play, the city of Sicilia is the backdrop-in this novel, Sicilia is the company owned by Leo (Leontes from the play). It was nice to see this homage while still keeping the story relevant.

The only negative was the last chapter. It went from telling Shep’s story and rolled into the author making the connection between this and The Winter’s Tale. It was a weird transition and maybe should have just been in it’s own chapter. Otherwise it was beautiful (the cover is also very lovely to look at!).

Thank you Blogging for Books for providing this novel in exchange for my review.